THE RECIPE: Take whatever disparate journalists you can lure, stuff them into a plane. Fly them down to East London. Take them on tour. Feed them. Encourage them to drink. Throw free goodies at them. And hope like hell they give you good coverage for the new logo you’re unveiling. Story by Mandy de Waal.
I’m standing in line with a gaggle of other journalists waiting to pick up my gift – a Slazenger wind breaker – when I think of the ‘red envelope’ practice in China. I hear from a friend of mine who does PR for an international marketing agency that there are very distinct ways of handling media relations in the People’s Republic.
If you are planning a media tour, a press conference or want to meet a member of the Chinese press then it is expected that you hand them a ‘red envelope’. Said envelope contains cash that ostensibly is for the journalist’s travel costs, but is essentially a bribe. If you don’t offer the ‘red envelope’ then don’t expect coverage or to see that member of the media again. However if the envelope is discreetly included in the media kit, you are damn sure guaranteed coverage.
Not that the Eastern Cape Tourism Board and their public relations agency, Hip-Hop Media, were doing anything wrong. Spending R1 million to launch a new logo is fair practice in the tourism industry which relies heavily on credible editorial coverage and a strong online media foot print. Plying the media with gifts is also pretty much standard practice.
What made me feel ‘dirty’ was the continual reference the management of the Eastern Cape Tourism Board (ECTB) and their PR agency made to “getting good coverage”. It wasn’t innuendo. Or a hint. Or a suggestion. The ECTB and Hip-Hop Media demanded good coverage. They stated on several occasions that since the media had been transported, toured, wined, dined and given the ‘red envelope’ (plied with free gifts) anything less than great coverage could be considered traitorous.
Sitting in a freezing, drafty tent after being frog marched to a press briefing at 22h30 following an evening of insane drumming and appalling industrial theatre studded with poor sex jokes and sad caricatures, I started thinking about brand experience. How if you’re launching a new brand the best way to do it is to ensure the media you want to champion that brand have a brilliant experience.
To my mind this means spending that R1m really well. How about forgoing the ‘red envelopes’ and throwing old school PR out the window? Packing away the drafty marquees in the middle of winter, retiring the odious speeches, the predictable three course meal and open bar. I would suggest taking the media on a real adventure and letting your province sell itself. Then for goodness sake pay attention to detail and ensure every part of the experience speaks to your brand promise of friendliness in what is an “adventure province”.
This point was driven home when booking into our accommodation after the late night media briefing, when cold and hungry there were about 15 members of the media desperate to flop into bed. We received the cold shoulder from the person at reception who was obviously put out at having to wait up. When I advised the management the next morning that this was ill considered, the management simply shrugged off the complaint.
2010 is just around the corner. Let’s hope we get a whole lot more professional in the next couple of months before those good folk from CNN, The New Yorker, The Guardian or BBC head to our shores.
Mandy de Waal is an Associate Editor at MarkLives.com
MarkLives invited EC Tourism and its PR agency to respond to the story in writing. Only EC Tourism responded.
From: Veliswa Mhlapo
Sent: 20 July 2009 14:58
Subject: RE: Response required : ECTB story
My sincerest apologies for not adhering to your 8am deadline. I have been to (and still am actually) trying comprehend if you really had such a terrible time in the Eastern Cape that you had to title your piece “media junket from hell” and write so negatively about the event. Unfortunately, that experience was completely the opposite to what most of the other journalists experienced.
Thank you for drawing our attention to the aspects of the launch that you did not enjoy. We will indeed pay attention to these aspects as we gear up for 2010 FIFA World Cup.
It is always very useful to get feedback as we continuously strive to improve our service in the province. The fact that you went to bed ‘cold and hungry’ saddens me- especially because we ‘wined and dined’ you and made a concerted effort to ensure that none of our guests went cold and hungry.